South A. Welcomes South A.

20131029-102802.jpgA few weeks ago I told you about a South African Pinotage that I blew my socks off. It was my first piece for Wine Savvy so you may have missed it but the experience whet my appetite for South African wines. This past Sunday, Wines of South Africa held a Braai and wine tasting to benefit the Amala Foundation. Held in the new venue, Vuka, in South Austin, the atmosphere was friendly and casual, approachable and diverse, just like the wines.

The organization is currently doing a US tour to showcase the wines and the changes being made in the industry, socially and environmentally. There were about 25 wines being poured and a few stations with nibbles: ostrich burgers, chicken skewers, etc. Because I was there on a mission, I only tried a little of the food, but what I tried was tasty. I had more important things to taste.

I had sampled some of the wines at previous events so I tried to stick to the new labels. I came away with two clear favorites. The main varieties being poured were Chenin and Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Pinotage with a few classics thrown in. If you are one that sticks with what you know, I would recommend checking out the Passages label. They were pouring a Chardonnay, a Merlot, and a Cab/Merlot blend. I preferred the bookends in the list but they were all good values around $15.

If you are adventurous, I highly recommend the Bellingham wines. The two being poured were very different, in every way, but my two favorites of the day. The Bellingham Citrus Grove Chenin Blanc was a great value at about $12. Bright citrus, tropical notes, easy drinking. The Bellingham Bernard Series SMV was a beautiful blend of Syrah and Mourvedre, softened with Viognier. Really versatile and smooth with floral red fruits and enough spice to give it weight. It could easily be quaffed alone or with a variety of foods. At $30 it is one of the higher end wines, but worth it. Both wines are available at Whole Foods.

If you are looking for some others to try, I also enjoyed the Stellar Organics Pinotage and Extra Dry Sparkling, both ridiculous values at $11. Also, check out the Mulderbosch Rose and Sauvignon Blanc. Tasty.

Usually at wine events I see a few people I know. These were new faces. These were happy faces. The wines of South Africa may not be well-known yet, but I see that changing. The quality for the price point is attractive, especially for those just experimenting with wines. The wines were easy to drink and easy to share. I’ll always drink to that. Cheers!

The Wine World’s a Buzz…

And if your tolerance is like mine these days, in more ways than one.  This is the time of year when there is one event after the other.  The calendar is getting crowded, overlapping even, and I need to pick and choose.  There are a few events coming up in the next month that are worth highlighting.  Some are local, some virtual, all sound fabulous.

Tomorrow night I will be participating in the Finger Lakes Wine Virtual Tasting.  This region is pretty hot right now.  “White hot,” you might say.   They are already getting international attention for their Riesling; we will be diving into some other whites.   I’ve participated in two other events like this.  Always fun.  Join us on twitter at 8 eastern,  #flxwinevt.  Here’s a list of what we will be tasting:

Hosmer Winery              2012 Chardonnay

Fulkerson Winery          2012 Gruner Veltliner

Lakewood Vineyards     2012 Pinot Gris

Villa Bellangelo               2012 Gewürztraminer

Knapp Winery 2012       Dry Gewürztraminer

Keuka Spring Vineyards    2012 Gewürztraminer

On Sunday the 20th at 2pm is the Gusto Blind Tasting at Barley Swine.  I haven’t been in a while but it is a great way to spend an afternoon.  Highly recommended.  Hoping I can swing it this month.

The following Sunday, October 27th from 3-6pm is the Wines Of South Africa – USA Braai Tour 2013/2014 event benefiting Amala Foundation at VUKA (411 Monroe Street West).  Tickets are $20 for unlimited Braai, South African barbeque and wine.  There is some great wine coming out of South Africa.  In fact, my first piece for Wine Savvy highlighted a South African Pinotage that I loved.  I am really trying to make this one.  Even if you don’t live in Austin, you can hit this event when it come to LA the following week.  Tickets are available now at austinbraai.eventbrite.com.

Also on the casual and fabulous list is the Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s 3rd Annual Wine and Swine Pig Roast out at Ceres Park on November 10th.  With that many amazing chefs and that much wine, you better bring your appetites and a driver.  Again, already a calendar conflict but I’m going to try to figure out a way to get out there.

Finally, I have to mention the 11th Annual Big Reds and Bubbles events.  I first found out about it two years ago.  I haven’t been able to make it yet.  I told my husband THIS year we are going.  He agreed.  I got the press release the following day and found out that it is on his birthday.  WHAT?!?  Of all days.  I still may be able to talk him into spending his big day in a suit.  I’m sure going to try.  Even if I can’t make it, you can.  I’ll sip vicariously.  Here are the details:

·        What: 11th Annual Big Reds & Bubbles

·        When: 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, November 7, 2013

·        Where: The Driskill Hotel, 604 Brazos St, Austin, TX 78701

·        How: www.winefoodfoundation.org

·        Tickets: $85 Foundation Members; $100 General Admission

“Simi”lar stories, Fabulous Pairings

They have similar backgrounds and similar goals, so it is not surprising that Simi Winery and Chef Kolin Vazzoler make a great pair.  Both from Italian heritage, the winery and Chef Kolin focus on producing high quality wines and foods that are sourced locally.  Kolin learned about the culinary arts from his mother and grandmother.  Now he teaches others in the industry about pairing the Simi wines and mentors those new to the profession.

kolinI had the opportunity to talk with Kolin yesterday at the Austin Food and Wine Festival.  Kolin grew up in British Columbia where he earned his culinary certification and began his career.  He moved to San Francisco to work with Gary Danko and spent eight years honing his skills in the city before heading to Healdsburg to work at Simi Winery.

I asked him how working at a winery differs from the restaurant world.  If you’ve spent any time in the industry you know that the hours can be daunting, so that is one benefit the winery offers.  In a restaurant, the chef creates the dish and then you seek out the wine that will work best with the food.  At the winery, the opposite holds true.  He is creating a dish that will best highlight the wine.  In the creative process, adjustments often have to be made, but Kolin has learned a few tricks that we can easily apply.  For example, if the wine is coming across “hot,” add some acid, lemon or salt.  If the wine seems to be falling flat, add savory notes, herbs perhaps.

appeAt the festival, Kolin was pairing the 2010 Sonoma County Pinot Noir with Crispy Chicken Skin, Mushroom Purée, and Dried Cherry.  And what a pairing it was.  The mushroom puree accented the earthy notes in the wine.  The dried cherry echoed the red fruits and the ginger salt highlighted the spice.  Delicious.

So what food and wine combinations have surprised Kolin?  He now enjoys pairing seafood with reds.  Catalan stew, Cioppino, Acqua Pazza all have ingredients which create depth and spice and they need something heavier, spicier to compliment the dish.

And what is his current favorite pairing with the Simi wines?  The Landslide Cabernet Sauvignon is both bright and rich.  Great fruit is balanced by fresh earthy notes.  Full, but not heavy, he enjoys pairing this wine with one of their specialty pizzas with charred radicchio and gorgonzola.  Yum.

My brother is also a chef in the Bay area and about the same age as Kolin.  I’ve watched him go from creating complicated, multi-ingredient works of art to a much simpler approach.  Find good food, in season, locally sourced and you don’t need to do much to it.  The food speaks for itself.  Your job is to find the combinations that work well together and let the natural beauty of the food shine.  From talking with Kolin, it is apparent that he has gone through a similar transition.  Eat what is available, fresh.  Play with it, but keep it simple.  Returning to his roots, this style of cooking is a natural fit for Kolin.

Although the restaurant is not generally open to the public, they do have private events and are working to make his dishes more accessible.  During summer weekends, pizzas and other rustic Italian fare are available.  They are looking into creating dishes to be enjoyed at home and “pop-up” dinners as well.  If you can’t make it to Healdsburg, Simi Wines are readily available and Chef Kolin has shared many of the recipes for his favorite pairings on the website.  Now to find the time to execute them…Cheers!

Disclaimer: I was provided with a pass to the Austin Food and Wine Festival in order to write this piece.  The opinions and thoughts are my own.

Cabernet Showdown

On the last Tuesday of every month, the Texas Wine and Food Consortium hosts a good old-fashioned duel.  While there may not be a definitive winner, there is definitely a good time had by all.  Gusto Tastings Sommeliers, Daniel Kelada and Oscar Montes-Iga choose a grape and draw a line between producers from all over the world and those in Texas.   We get to enjoy the battle.

TWFC

I previously attended the tastings in which we looked at Viognier and Tempranillo, both grapes that do very well in the Texas climate.  This month, Cabernet Sauvignon was the star of the show.  I will admit that I had my doubts.  After all, how well can Cab really do here?  Denise Clarke, shared my skepticism and chose to taste blindly.  I think we were both surprised by the evening. 

As with each of the competitions, the evening was divided into four flights: Old World, New World, Texas, and then a vertical tasting of a Texas wine.  This month, Becker Vineyards provided the vertical tasting.

For the Old World tasting, we had two French and one Israeli wine.  For the New World flight, we tasted Washington, Chile, Napa, and South Africa.  We then moved to nine Texas wines and the vertical flight.

Tasting this many wines can be a funny thing.  My palate begins to fade.  I can taste through a flight and think I know which one I prefer.  Taste them again, and it becomes less clear.  As a wine opens it changes.  Have a snack, it changes again.  If you asked me which wine was my favorite, I would also have to ask, “With food or without?”  And if you asked the person next to me, there may be very little overlap in the list of favorites. 

Some of my tasting notes of the evening included the classic terms such as, “cherry, leather, tobacco, greens.” And then there were some less common descriptors: “dill pickle, green pepper with cherry on top, cream soda, tomato leaf.”

Some personal highlights included:

Le Relais De Dufort-Vivens, Margaux, Grand Vin, 2009 (classic notes, Bing cherry, tobacco)

Marques de Casa Concha, Puento Alto, 2010 (Less classic but friendly, cherry cola, Eucalyptus, Green tomato leaf)

Flat Creek, Texas High Plains, Newsome Vineyard, Reserve 2010 (Big, impressive, yet subtle fruit, cherry, and greens)

The Vineyard at Florence, Williamson County, ‘Veritas’ 2010 (huge sour cherry and berry blend)

Becker Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Canada Family Vineyards, 2007 (elegant nose, hazelnut and cranberry, some vegetative notes)

Becker Vineyard, Texas High Plains, Canada Family Vineyards, 2009 (earth, leather, fruit, surprising elegant for age)

Becker Vineyard Claret 2011 (drought year so concentrated fruit, bright sour cherry, some green, cocoa)

As an encore, Tim Drake of Flat Creek Estate, decided to finish the evening with something very special.  He opened a 2002 Flat Creek Cab that was amazing.  If there was any question about whether Texas can do Cab, more importantly, a Cab that can age, Flat Creek gave us the answer. 

So who was the winner?  Well, there is no clear answer to such a subjective question, but you can judge for yourself.  Next month’s tasting will look at Tannat and will be featuring wines from Bending Branch.  In April, Texas Wine and Food Consortium will bring us fortified wines (port, Sherry, Madeira) with Haak winery.  Upcoming tastings will feature Roussane, Rose, Red Blends, White Blends, Merlot, Malbec , and Sangiovese.

For more information on these tastings, contact Daniel Kelada.

 This piece was originally written for and posted on Texas Wine and Trail

Wines

Thanks, Giving, and Connection

At this time of year, many of us are rushing around, trying to decide on the perfect appetizer,on table settings and decor, and pairing wines that will fit the budget but still impress our guests. And some are trying to figure out where they will get their next meal. Or how to pay the electric bill. Or wishing they had an electric bill to pay. Between the destruction in the wake of the hurricane and the current unemployment across the country, the needs we see around us can be overwhelming. How can we help? How can we possibly make a difference when the need is everywhere and so much bigger than us?

Fourteen years ago, there was one man, in a dark place, with no home and very little in his pocket. He saw a family and recognized a need. A need he deemed greater than his, and he chose to do something. With the last of his money, he went to the store to pull together what he could to give the family a meal on Thanksgiving. When he returned, they were gone, so he distributed the food to others. One man, one meal, and a giving heart.

Flash forward to 2010. I am proud to say that man became my Brother-in-law and that act of kindness has become Gobble, Gobble, Give. The man who chose to give, when he had nothing to give, increased his efforts. Healthy, happy, and successful by any measure, he continues to build, continues to give. What began as one man and one meal grew to an organization with groups in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and NYC. An organization that fed 5,000 people that year.

Here is an excerpt of a letter I wrote to him in 2010 (shared with permission):

“Growing up, there are several Bible stories that are the staples. You hear them over and over again. Some have impact, but most, I think don’t get really processed until later in life, when you have the ability to see things in a new light. One of those stories is about how Jesus takes a boy’s lunch, multiplies the bread and fish, and is able to feed a hungry crowd of 5000.

I had heard it many times, but I didn’t process it until I heard your story and the results from this Thanksgiving. The miracle that was written about in Matthew seemed like just that….a miracle…nothing practical to apply in life. A one time event. But it wasn’t.

Christ took the lunch of a boy who was willing. It wasn’t much when he started, just a willingness to share what he had, but when he was finished, 5000 people ate that day. A miracle.

What you have done with Gobble, Gobble, Give is just that to me. A miracle. A compassionate heart and the willingness to help others has exploded into this HUGE thing. It is so wonderful to see. I wanted to let you know the effect it has had on me. You didn’t feed my belly, but you fed my soul. “

And so last year, we began Gobble, Gobble, Give in Austin. And this year they are adding Santa Monica. The miracle continues to grow. If you live near any of these locations, it is easy to participate and it only requires a plate of food, two hours of your morning, and your willingness to be used. If you don’t live near, your donation can help make it possible.

I am grateful for his example and for all that I have been given. I am grateful for the chance to give just a small portion of that next Thursday and throughout the year. Won’t you join us in giving others a happy Thanksgiving?

Discoveries from Columbus Weekend

Although some would question the political correctness of celebrating Columbus Day, few would argue about the long weekend. And a long weekend means more time to drink wine, especially enjoyable when you have been doing (mostly)dry weeks. We packed this weekend with equal parts productivity and revelry. Here are some fun discoveries.

On Wednesday, I joined Gusto Tastings at III Forks for an evening of Viognier.  Anatoli Levine, who writes Talk-A-Vino, happened to be in town so I invited him to join me. I thought it was a great opportunity to see what is going on here in the wine industry. Texas vs. The World is a comparative tasting of Old World, New World, and Texas wines. We tasted seventeen Viogniers including a vertical tasting from Flat Creek Estate. As luck would have it, we sat with the winemaker, Tim Drake and his lovely wife, Spring. It was a fantastic evening. In my opinion, Texas took this one. The 2011 Flat Creek was amazing. A glorious nose and equally impressive taste. I am also a fan of McPherson Cellars and the Brennan Vineyards. We even got to do a barrel tasting of the Flat Creek 2012 which is only six weeks in to a very promising journey.

I spent Friday and Saturday consumed in garage sale drudgery, motivated only by the fact that it was for charity. I realized that, in the future, I will likely take the path of less torture and donate both the items and some money. Needless to say, I was ready for a glass of wine at the end of the day. I had been wanting to try a sample that I recently received from Mommy Juice wines*. Great name and marketing. The white is 100% Chardonnay and the red is a blend of mostly Cab Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc, with a dash of this and that. I am a tough sell on Chardonnay, especially entry-level wines, but I really liked the red blend. It was a very nice, easy drinking wine.  Berry nose with a hint of vanilla. I tasted a lot of Bing Cherry and some brighter red fruit. At about $10, it makes a perfect Monday wine. And I know many Mommy’s that need a little juice at the end of a Monday, or Tuesday, or any day.

On Sunday, the hubs and I headed out to Flat Creek Estate for Grape Jam. The event featured wines from eight wineries and music. I love seeing the growth in the Texas wine industry. Collectively, there are some very exciting things going on here and I love trying new producers. I was introduced to new grapes like Bending Branch’s Tannat and Black Spanish grapes of Dry Comal Creek. I found some new loves in Flat Creek’s Super Texan and Pinot Blanc. More importantly, I was able to spend time with some fabulous people. I talked at length with Rick Naber, the owner, and Tim Drake, the winemaker. I came away with a better sense of the challenges and the tenacious spirit of the Texas winemaker. But that is a whole different post.

On Monday, after my man trimmed the trees, and the kids and I hauled the branches, I headed to Whole Foods for a …PIE FIGHT! The event kicked off the fundraising efforts of Les Dames E’scoffier. They have some great items up for auction. No matter where you are in the country, if you love food and wine, there is something for you. Check it out at www.austinfoodfight.org. Because my partner, Scott Calvert of The Cake Plate, and I had the most Social Media buzz (thank you!) we got to go last. We faced the reigning champion, Chef Josh Watkins and his partner Jennie Chen of Miso Hungry. I was doing pretty well at dodging and weaving, but they took us in the end. Scott was a true gentleman and took most of the hits. And speaking of hits? I hit a JUDGE. In the FACE. My thumb got stuck in the melting crust and my frisbee attempt failed miserably. Oh my goodness, I was mortified and profusely apologetic. Other than my egregious throwing error, it was a great evening.

Tonight, we are headed out again to The Taste of Kenichi, an event introducing their new Executive Chef, Richard Lee. It should be fabulous! I’ll keep you posted on the yummies. Cheers!

*Mommy Juice wine was provided as a media sample.

A Blind Date-Gusto Tastings

A cool, rainy Sunday can feel a little like Christmas here in Central Texas, especially at the Summer’s end.  Settling in at home with a cup of tea is about as good as it gets.  Unless you can be at Barley Swine enjoying a Blind Tasting with Gusto Tastings.  That is even better.

Each month, Gusto Tastings holds a blind tasting which allows you to test your palate and chat with other wine lovers in a warm, casual atmosphere.  Gusto Tastings says they,”strive to provide a different kind of service; one that not only is unique and fun but one that can inform and leave an impression.”  They do just that.  The two events I have attended thus far have been outstanding.  It can be difficult to make wine education approachable for the novice and still stretch the seasoned professional.  They have found that sweet spot.

Daniel Kelada founded Gusto Tastings in 2008.  He is a Senior Wine Instructor and an Executive Sommelier.  Daniel is extremely knowledgable in all things wine.  That is undeniable.  However, what I most appreciate about him is his warm demeanor and his ability to bring that expertise to others so effortlessly.  Every question was answered, his explanations were thorough, and yet he made you feel as if you were just chatting with a friend.  As a former teacher, I recognize and appreciate his gift.

On each table, there was a list of possible grapes from a variety of countries.  There were tasting forms, glasses for the flights, and some ridiculously tasty munchies, courtesy of Barley Swine.  On each form, there was a series of questions to help you narrow down your guess.  The goal being to determine:

  • Country
  • Region
  • Varietal
  • Vintage +/- 2yrs.
  • Production Technique

Intimidated?  Don’t be.  Daniel then went through each wine and helped you recognize the clues in each wine that would lead to the correct answer.  I learned so much.  For example, where the acid hits on your tongue indicates the type of acid.  I learned about production techniques and the history of Gamay.  Yes, as luck would have it, we focused on French wines, about which I have much to learn.  The order of the wines in and of itself helped narrow down the possible regions.  The nose?  Another clue.  Old World or New world?  Cool climate or warm?  Seated with many professionals, it would have been easy to feel intimidated, but the group was so warm and so willing to help.  Instead, I felt encouraged and inspired.

Another special treat was a presentation by Madame Cocoa.  She teaches informal classes at UT Austin and at Chautauqua Institution in NY on the glorious bean.  She also gives dessert and chocolate tours here in Austin.  She shared four artisanal chocolates from various origins.  Amazing.  My favorites were Patric Chocolates from Madagascar.  A treat, for sure, but so worth it.

So, now I have a new addiction.  If it is the third Sunday of the month, and you need to find me, try Barley Swine.  Don’t want to wait that long?  Gusto Tastings is hosting another fun event this Wednesday at III Forks: Texas vs. The World where they will be featuring Viogniers.  And you know how I feel about Viognier.

Disclosure: I was provided a Media pass to attend this event

Tour de Fabuleux

In a town where foodies and festivals abound, there are several occasions to wander from sample to sample. I have attended and enjoyed several, but none as much as The Tour de Vin this past Friday at the W Hotel. The Wine and Food Foundation has created an elegant, festive event which features Austin’s best chefs and more fabulous wine than I could sample. How do you begin to adequately review an event such as this? I have been asking myself that all morning.

Before the main event, my husband and I were graciously invited to attend the VIP Wine and Cheese Tasting hosted by Shawn Croft of Gusto Tasting and Marie-Louise Friedland of Henri’s Cheese Shop. They put together four amazing and unique pairings. The highlights for me were the most elegant Goat Cheese (with Brie-style rind) that I have tasted, a Chilean Pinot Noir in which I could taste the vine, and a Viognier and Bleu Goat’s milk pairing that sang. The Bleu is made locally at Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs.

Upon entering the Tour de Vin, each guest was given a “passport” which gave information about the country represented in each room, the participating chefs, and a description of the wines being sampled. This information was also clearly labeled at the tables. Great organization. There were too many wonderful dishes to mention (or try), and too many wines to sample but my favorites were as follows.

Favorite Dishes:

1) Curry Rubbed Ahi with Fennel Rhubarb Kimchi and Basil from Chef Shane Stark of Kenichi

2) Pimentos Rellenos de Queso de Cabra from Chef Jed Holdredge of Tapas Bravas

3) Smoked Beef Tongue with Pickled Yellow Mustard Seed and Fruit Compote by Chef John Bates of Noble Pig

Favorite Wines:

1) 2011 Chateau de Campuget Rose (the only sampled I finished)

2) 2009 Edi Simcic Rebula Riserva (a surprising, unique Slovenian wine)

3) Duckhorn Merlot (I do love a good Merlot, check out Trends, Schmends)

4) 2010 Veramonte ‘Ritual’ Pinot Noir (Chilean wine from the VIP tasting)

Favorite Dessert:

Tres Leches Rice Pudding from Sentelli’s

The entire event was absolutely delightful. They thought of every detail to make their guests comfortable. The food and drink were plentiful and superb. The people were friendly, gracious and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Usually I leave large events thinking, “It would have been great if they had…”. Not this time. I can’t imagine how it could have gone better. Well, yes I can. When I looked through the passport at the end of the evening, I saw that I missed several items that sounded amazing, but I felt I had already indulged sufficiently. Next time, I will make my husband share samples so I can get around to more.  Many thanks to the people at The Wine and Food Foundation for the gracious invitation to join you in celebrating the cuisines of the world and the abundant talent we have here in Austin.

Disclosure: The Foundation provided me with a free VIP and event media pass for which I am grateful.